HC Deb 04 March 1997 vol 291 cc584-5W
Mr. Faber

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on the negotiation of the 1997 to 1999 British objective 2 structural funds programmes. [18863]

Mr. Greg Knight

The Government in collaboration with local partnerships produced regional and social conversion plans for each of the 13 British areas. These were submitted to the European Commission during August 1996.

Following negotiations, the Commission has announced its agreement in principle to 10 programmes of grant, based on these plans, subject to consultation of the EU structural funds committees. Some questions raised by the Commission remain to be settled; I hope that this can be done as soon as possible so that the programmes can be adopted by the Commission by the end of March.

The 10 programmes cover:

  • North-east England
  • West Cumbria
  • Yorkshire and Humberside
  • London
  • West Midlands
  • Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Cheshire
  • South Wales
  • Eastern Scotland
  • Western Scotland
  • Gibraltar

The remaining programmes for the east midlands, Thanet and Plymouth are close to agreement and should be adopted during April.

The programmes set a coherent strategic framework for the use of approximately £1.9 billion of EU structural funds grant for economic regeneration, the development of enterprise and skills, and the creation of jobs based on the local needs and the potential of each area. They draw on the experience and successes of the 1994 to 1996 programmes to ensure continuity and improved value for money.

Under the programmes, a range of projects will be approved, for the support for small and medium enterprises, increasing the technology base, tourism and community economic development, with an anticipated total value of around £4.7 billion.

I welcome the effective way in which the Government and local partnerships have co-operated on these programmes. Over the past few years, the experience of local programme monitoring committees has grown. Increasingly, they address strategic issues, as well as the more working level consideration of programme implementation. Although these committees essentially deal with administrative matters and are mainly attended by officials, we have received representations from some committees seeking to involve local councillors. After considering these representations, I have decided that it should be for each United Kingdom monitoring committee to determine whether to accept elected members as representatives of local councils.

Most of the programmes for England and Wales provide for part of their grant, £160 million in total, to be awarded to projects through the second round of regional challenge. This will be run locally, and after the programmes have been adopted, each area will launch its own competition.

Regional challenge aims to increase competition in the allocation of European structural funds. The first round awarded a total prize fund of £160 million to 34 innovative projects in England and Wales. Winning applicants included flagship projects such as the earth centre in South Yorkshire and the Lowry centre in Salford. The first round of regional challenge projects has levered in an estimated £359 million of private sector contribution.